How Retail is Transforming in a Mobile-First World
Years ago, the biggest debate in retail was “bricks vs. clicks.” It was assumed that shoppers would either buy in a physical store or online. Today, mobile devices have completely upturned that either/or paradigm. There's now fluidity in how consumers are shopping, and a variety of touchpoints they're using along their purchase journeys.
Physical stores are now being used by consumers as researching alternatives — e.g., trying on items for sizing, picking up ordered products, returning or exchanging purchases made online — in addition to their traditional purpose of being purchase locations.
Mobile devices extend what used to be an at-home computer session into the outside world. With mobile, the world is a store and shopping takes place wherever a signal reaches. This includes inside physical stores. Shoppers are now accessing brands’ websites in-store to check for deals or coupons. They may also order products from within the store that are out of stock in that physical location. In addition, stores are beginning to use mobile payments instead of traditional cash registers. According to a report from BI Intelligence, it’s estimated that by 2019, almost 200 billion transactions a year will be via mobile phones and tablets.
This move to mobile and the expanded use of online means that retailers must think as much about the online store experience as they do the in-store experience. Mobile sites and apps must satisfy the full shopper's journey in ways that ease the path-to-purchase. It’s important that that they also offer geo-location capabilities so that retailers are able to use this function in order to research and optimize the consumers’ in-store experiences.
When it comes to community platforms, mobile-first orientation is necessary. Mobile access is now the norm for many client communities. Additionally, leveraging mobile access to do video-based research, in-store surveys, photo albums of product usage, and multistage studies across the shopper experience provides more accurate and firsthand insight for consumers and brands.
In addition to the “click” aspect of moving outside of the home via mobile devices, there's an increasing number of online apps and websites for shopping. The benefits these apps provide in terms of the shopping experience as well as points and discounts drive traffic away from store websites and into these more storefront-agnostic channels.
An important factor in mobile is the use of an app, rather than only providing access through a browser website. At Fuel Cycle, our data shows a 40 percent higher engagement level through our mobile app vs. our mobile-optimized browser-based communities. Having a mobile-friendly design helps drive engagement, which in turn yields better results and, in the end, means greater return on investment for brands that work with a company maximizing mobile. Shoppers are now used to and prefer the overall app experience.
A mobile-first world expands the reach of retailers far beyond the geographical footprint of their physical stores. To truly take advantage of the opportunity that mobile provides, however, retailers need to think and act “mobile.” Only replicating the in-store experience online ignores the unique benefits of the online experience, and will result in more traffic going to apps or retailers that have taken advantage of going mobile.
Mary Lou Barney is vice president of client success at Fuel Cycle, a SaaS-based research lifecycle platform.
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